Boris Johnson reveals the truth about 'devolution disaster' comments

Boris Johnson has urged the SNP to withdraw demands for an independence referendum next year and work with the UK Government in the battle against Coronavirus.

Boris Johnson called for SNP to ditch referendum demands
Boris Johnson called for SNP to ditch referendum demands

The Prime Minister also slammed the “abysmal” record of the Nationalist administration at Holyrood in managing public services in Scotland over the past decade, as he spoke publicly for the first time about private comments which came to light last week in which he branded devolution a “disaster” during a meeting of MPs.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford last week demanded that a repeat of the 2104 referendum on Scottish independence should be staged next year, with consistent polling in Scotland showing a majority now back leaving the UK.

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But the Prime Minister insisted that battle against the pandemic should be the focus of political energies in a pre-recorded address to the Scottish Conservatives conference.

"This is not the moment for division or distraction about our national constitution,” he said.

"In all the thrust to tackle the shared and common thread that is Covid 19, the focus on separation has got to stop and for it to stop so has the division .

"So I want to thank the Scottish Government for the way it has worked with all of us, with the UK Government, the other devolved administrations to try to tackle this virus over these past few months.

"I would appeal to them to continue working with us making use of the vaccine, tests kits and new technology that come from being what is one of the worl'd leading scientific superpowers.

"Covid-19 doesn't care about constitutional arrangements and whatever our political differences, we all need to work together at this time to protect the health and jobs of the people of Scotland."

Mr Johnson also sought to explain comments which came to light last week from a meeting with northern English Tory MPs in which he was alleged to have branded devolution a “disaster.”

"I know that comments I made the other day on devolution have been widely reported - leaked - not entirely accurately, but never mind,” he added.

"I'll give you my round, unvarnished view - the way the SNP have handled devolution in Scotland has been a disaster. Plummeting education standards, low business confidence and the lowest satisfaction ever in public services. It's an abysmal record

"The key is to have policies that can show how devolution can work for the people in Scotland, rather than the SNP obsession with making devolution work against the rest of the UK.

“Just because I criticised the performance of devolution doesn't mean I want to oppose devolution as a concept on it's own. Of course not, I'm a former mayor of London and I know how effective devolved powers can be, for example in making transport greener or tackling crime.

"Devolution should be used not by politicians as a wall to break away an area of the UK from the rest.

"It should be used as a step to pass powers to local communities and businesses to make their lives better. It's that kind of localism which I believe in and I want to take further."

This means the Holyrood Government in Edinburgh devolving greater power to councils and communities around the country, her added.

The Prime Minister said the experience of battling the pandemic showed what can be achieved through "co-operation and working together across the whole of the UK.”

Treasury support has safeguarded the jobs of more than 900,000 Scots jobs through furlough and self employment support schemes, he went on.

"This is my promise, my offer, my commitment for the months and years ahead - a partnership through shared stability and prosperity," he added.

"Just as we have come together to beat back and we hope and believe defeat Coronavirus, so must stick together and work together to rebuild from its ravages.

"Of course we can't magic away the deep differences of opinion over Scotland's future as an integral part of the United Kingdom."

The UK Government has control over the constitution under the devolved settlement and the Prime Minister has ruled out Nicola Sturgeon’s calls to transfer power to Holyrood which would allow a referendum to be held. The situation is likely to intensify if, as polls suggest, a pro-independence majority of MSPs is returned at next year’s Scottish Parliament election.

Mr Johnson said "nobody could be prouder" than he was of Scotland's role in the UK and the "vital contribution" it makes to the country.

"Whatever the differences that the Scottish National Party and I have on our shared future, I'm clear that none of that political wrangling should get in the way of giving you and your children the opportunities and the quality of life you deserve, not when we've all got a stake in this together and especially not now when we've got a pandemic to beat," he added.

"While we can differ over the constitutional issues, we can also and I think must unite our efforts to give Scotland a better, brighter future."

He added: "If we want, as we must, to boost Scotland's economy and create more and better jobs for Scottish workers, let's unite and work together to do it.

"If we want, as is vital, to improve Scotland's transport connections to other parts of the UK, then let's unite and work together to deliver these improved transport connections.

"If we want, as the needs of future generations demand of us, to lead the world as a UK in building a net-zero economy then let's unite and work together to ensure that cleaner, greener future."

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